The Greek Orthodox Church’s senior cleric in the USA has sent a letter to American President Barack Obama, as well as other high-ranking Washington officials, in a bid to draw attention to the treatment of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios by Turkey.

Archbishop of America Demetrios wrote just before Christmas Day to US President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, to ask for their help in protecting the patriarch.

The letters also ask for help in ensuring that the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul to continue operating and performing its mission are upheld.

Demetrios wrote the letters after Ankara expressed its displeasure at comments made by Vartholomaios in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, during which the patriarch complained that his treatment by Turkish authorities often left him feeling “crucified” and “like a second-class citizen.”

Vartholomaios’s choice of words did not please Ankara.

“We regard the use of the crucifixion analogy as extremely unfortunate… I would like to see this as a slip of the tongue,” said Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. “We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve.”

The minister rejected criticism that Turkey was discriminating against its citizens based on their religion.

Among other things, Vartholomaios has campaigned for the reopening of the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki following its closure by Turkish authorities in 1971.

“[The Turkish government] would be happy to see the Patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen,” Vartholomaios told CBS.

“This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us an equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes.”